Racing: Old problem for the young bucks

Arc de Triomphe: History and experience point to local hero Swain seeing off rivals and preserving generation gap; Sue Montgomery predicts a home success in today's French showpiece
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The best of two generations, including the winners of the Epsom and Curragh Derbies, clash in this afternoon's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, the great autumn middle-distance showdown in the Bois de Boulogne. Honours have been even in the past 20 years and with testing conditions likely today on the banks of the Seine and a superstar yet to emerge from the Classic generation, the three-year-olds may have to give best to their elders in the quest for the pounds 527,000 first prize and Group One glory.

History decrees that when in France, side with the locals. British horses do, of course, win the Arc - and six raiders will be trying this time - but not that often. If you acknowledge last year's victor, the Dubai- based Lammtarra, as one of ours, he was only the third, after Carroll House in 1989 and Dancing Brave 10 years ago, from 60 contenders in the past decade.

And at risk of being over- simplistic, recent records show the winner should have scored last time out. In the last 10 years, only Subotica has failed to meet this criterion. The one horse who fits these requirements, and has proven Group One form to his credit, is Swain.

The colt's trainer, Andre Fabre, knows precisely what it takes to win Europe's premier middle-distance contest, having sent out Trempolino to win in 1987 and Carnegie two years ago. The latter was ridden by today's pilot Thierry Jarnet, who also brought Subotica home.

Swain, a son of Nashwan, proved he can handle the hurly-burly that today's contest inevitably produces when a close third as an inexperienced horse last year. He has been aimed at a repeat bid ever since and is now a seasoned campaigner, and physically twice the individual he was 12 months ago.

Fabre has sent him down the traditional French Arc route by giving him a short break after his summer programme, highlighted by a dogged defeat of Singspiel in the Coronation Cup.

He failed to get the run of the race when going down by a length to Helissio at Saint-Cloud at the end of June, and then outmanoeuvred Pentire in a slowly run Prix Foy last month. The soft going will suit him, and enable him to confirm the form with Pentire.

If a three-year-old star is to emerge from the race, the Prix Niel could provide the key. The form of the winner, Helissio, makes him a worthy favourite and he won by 10 lengths on the soft ground in the spring, but the only blot on his copybook came when he pulled Dominic Boeuf's arms out in the French Derby, and although he seems a reformed character in Olivier Peslier's hands, that was the only previous occasion he has had to race in a big field. Darazari, a progressive son of Sadler's Wells, was a most eye-catching runner-up in the Niel and it would be no surprise to see him involved in the finish.

The best of the British may be Classic Cliche, the mount of the unstoppable Frankie Dettori. The Gold Cup and St Leger winner lacks that vital turn of foot over 12 furlongs in good conditions, but today's going may blunt the speed of others in the race, and he is a tough competitor who will see out every yard of the struggle. But Walter Swinburn's mount Pilsudski, a Group One winner in Germany last time out, should not be underestimated, and has sound each-way claims.

The Irish, who field Zagreb and Oscar Schindler, have not won since Alleged took his second Arc in 1978. Zagreb looked a world-beater at the Curragh, but the laid-back colt has not run since June and lacks experience.